I still think that the celeb ad will ultimately be ineffective, but I did some more thinking on why this spot--more than any released this election season--really bugs me. I watched the ad again, and saw the McCain camp's response to the debate proposal. A lot of folks claim that this strategy is a continuation of the Republican efforts to turn John Kerry into an effete flip-flopper. I guess--but it also seems to be of a lower order. At least calling someone a flip-flopper--no matter how dubious the charge--has some reference to policy and issues. Passive-aggressively describing Obama as a "worldwide celeb" is just an attempt to appeal to a sort of base sense of jealousy and xenophobia. It makes absolutely no comment on what an Obama presidency might look like. It simply says "don't vote for these guys because the rest of the world likes him." It really would be no different than Obama releasing an ad that said "John McCain fought in one failed war, no wonder he's backing another."
The new McCain strategy is a fascinating alloy of elitism and anti-intellectualism, and in that sense, perhaps no alloy at all. Still, the tactic derides celebrity--presumably because celebrity is achieved through popularity, not through doing anything "real," and then it asks people to vote on base prejudice toward people who aren't like them, not on issues. Consider this incredible quote from McCain henchman Rick Davis:
"Only celebrities like Barack Obama go to the gym three times a day, demand ‘MET-RX chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars and bottles of a hard-to-find organic brew—Black Forest Berry Honest Tea’ and worry about the price of arugula."
I read those words, and thought only of generic gangsta rappers ranting about "Keeping it real." All cultures have their essentialist brutes, and if anything radiates from Davis's statement, it's rank thuggism. It's contempt for "The Other" is only outweighed by its complete embrace of ignorance--"This guy shouldn't be president because he eats power-bars." The housing market is collapsing, Iran is pursuing the bomb, climate change is peeking over the horizon--and we are discussing power-bars and Honest Tea. Look, all campaigns do their share of unfair attacks. And at the end of the day, it's Obama's job to come back with a devastating counter. He's excelled at that all year. I expect him to do no less here. But--and I this will sound totally syrupy and naive--I really thought John McCain was a little better than this.